"I was halfway through Atom Heart Mother thinking, 'What the f*** are we doing? This is a bit ambitious!'": The stories behind Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets' new Set The Controls setlist

Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets group portrait
(Image credit: Future)

Six years on from ex-Blockheads guitarist Lee Harris’s madcap idea to create a band to play early Pink Floyd songs – and having that idea fly with Nick Mason thanks to Lee’s pal, Floyd/David Gilmour bassist Guy Pratt approaching him – Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets is about to rocket around the UK for the third time, continuing with the regular line-up of Gary Kemp on guitar and vocals and Dom Beken on keys. 

Nick Mason tells us, "We certainly didn’t think it would last this long, but it’s just such fun to do – and there’s more to do. In America particularly, the audiences tend to think that Floyd is only Dark Side Of The Moon, but our early work is extremely varied and just as interesting.

"The big thing with the Saucers that’s so good for me is that every time we play it seems to get a little better. Extra ideas are thrown in all the time, and I've never come offstage thinking, ‘Well, that wasn't particularly good’. Everyone's still interested in exploring the music and, although it’s very grand to play big stadiums, the advantage of us playing these lovely smaller theatres is we have the treat of being able to do some improvisation and have the audience be very engaged with us, not at the back doing drugs or playing Frisbee."

Below, Lee and Guy share some some tales, memories and insider info on the Saucerful Of Secrets Set The Controls Tour setlist as the tour begins. 

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Astronomy Domine

Guy: Astronomy is one of those songs that I have most of history with, it's one of only two or three songs that I'd ever played before the Saucers. Famously, I played it on the ‘94 Floyd tour and sometimes we’d open with that, a four-piece, which was absolutely thrilling for me as it would be Rick, Nick and David, and we had Peter Wynne-Willson, the guy who did the liquid lights in the 60s, with infinite budget to create UFO-club stadium lighting. When we play it now, I do it straight, and I’m amazed at how much guitar soloing is in it, three or four parts, given when it was written. 


Arnold Layne

Lee: The first two tapes I ever got were by Ian Dury and the Blockheads and Relics, and that’s been my life! I got Syd’s guitar part from the original track to see what he was doing, to hear the nuances. But it just became me and Guy turning it into The Who

Guy: This will forever be coloured for me by the time I played it live with David Bowie, his last ever public performance, onstage with David Gilmour [in 2006]. He sang like he knew that song inside out and he did this thing, when he sang ‘Two to know’ he held up two fingers in a ‘V for Victory’ salute. It made me think about the song in a new way, like the person singing is of the same mind as the protagonist. When you come to the show, you’ll see I’ve perfected a way of playing and making that sign too. 


See Emily Play

Guy: I love playing Emily because it's because it's so Syd, and yet it so isn't. It's Syd Barrett using the other half of his brain in that it's so wonderfully organised and sort of it's such a concise, professional, properly written pop song, as opposed to this kind of insane chord salad that that his songs tend to be. And that’s a compliment. 

On those early records there’s so little actual bass, because Roger [Waters] was a proto-Hooky [Peter Hook, ex- New Order], so when we play this live, because I’ve got my full-on prog pedals, I play the bass notes with my feet. Another indulgence is while it’s the keyboard I play The Real Me.

Lee: When we first got together with Gary, he said “Do you mind if I play the Bowie version from Pin-Ups?” Of course we didn’t! So he gives it that Mick Ronson feel. 


Candy And A Currant Bun

Guy: This is the most 60s poptastic thing that we do, and Nick has his big gag in the middle of it. It’s an odd song because for all their psychedelia and everything Pink Floyd are the last band you’d hear joking about pot smoking.

Lee: I kind of play this like I’m Wilko Johnson! It’s good fun and I like seeing Dom sort-of conducting Nick, cueing his lines. 


Remember A Day

Lee: This is a special one for Guy, and an interesting one for me because it's all slide work. It’s weird, mostly on the E string, and I’m making these funny, ethereal noises. When Rick died David did this with Guy on Later… with Jools Holland, and I took my inspiration from that performance, and also took the approach of “how would Syd play it now, with access to modern technology?”

Guy: I love this song for so many reasons [this was written by Rick Wright, Guy’s father-in-law]. It resonates with me on a personal level, and if I’ve sung it and my son Stan is in the venue I find it very emotional. The song has a theme that Floyd had that goes all the way up to Luck And Strange, David’s upcoming album, which has an element of looking back. Rick was 23 when he wrote that, feeling nostalgic already.


Obscured By Clouds/When You’re In 

Guy: We love playing this. It’s like stepping into another band, a brutal rock machine. I love that band. I knew this track from way back, when I was at school. There, kids knew Pink Floyd as the band that did cool movie soundtracks. Obscured By Clouds and More would have been on the record player in the room we called the Jazz Cellar.

Lee: I wasn’t that familiar with Obscured… when I came up with the idea for the band. Then Nick said yes, and I had to go off and listen everything I didn’t know [laughs]. I went in search of bootlegs, which helped Gary and I hear how David was playing things live, and we realised we could do anything, really. With this track Gary and I made a thing out of this where we do a dual slide, and lots of feedback, which makes it raunchy. 


If/Atom Heart Mother/If 

Lee: This is a segue and it was actually Gary’s idea. In my head I imagined someone singing If, then slipping into a dream, which is Atom Heart Mother, then, clang clang CLANG! They awaken into If again. Atom… is 24 minutes long. We all sat and listened to it and decided it wouldn’t work, so we brought it down to about nine minutes, using our favourite parts.

Guy: This is the song I remember from the first European tour. I remember being in Amsterdam and calling my missus Georgie up and she said, “How’s it going?” I had this memory of being halfway through Atom Heart Mother, thinking, “What the fuck are we doing? This is a bit ambitious!” It’s a period piece and I feel for Dom on this one, he’s doing a lot and he’s very exposed. Those big chords… there’s sexier ones. E, G and F, that’s fucking clumsy, man [laughs]. I do love having If either side of it, though. That’s when Gary and I get to me our most romantic and vulnerable and plaintive.


Nile Song 

Lee: This is an all-out rocker and we highlight the guitar solos on it. It’s not very fast in tempo though. Guy would say “Who’s up for some rock and roll, then?” and it would be [counts slowly] one… two… [laughs]

Guy: Doing these songs you get to see the band from a different perspective. Imperial Floyd would never have done anything as throwaway as Nile Song, the tongue is so out of the cheek here. It’s one of the rare times Floyd are in ‘rock world’, and it’s quite a good lesson in songwriting as it changes key every verse. The only song I know that does the same is My Generation.


Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun

Lee: I’m very mindful that this is Nick’s favourite Pink Floyd song to play, he’s uses the mallets and the double bass drum. I provide the bass line as there’s no bass – Guy does a couple of bars. Gary does a big thing with delay. Pink Floyd, eh? Where would they be without echo? He always explores what he can do with the delay pedal and sometimes in 10 minutes, sometimes more. 

Guy: I love everything about Set The Controls…. It brings back my proper Pink Floyd memories and we're back in a land where I can, frankly, leave the stage and go and do something else, because it's so long, there's such long stretches where I'm not needed. It was a little safety valve where I knew I could go to loo [laughs]. I wish I'd been old enough in 1967 to hear that for the first time, because then you're in a world where nothing like that has existed. It ploughed its own furrow – and it was scary to listen to. I’m very much an observer on this performance and I like watching what everyone’s doing – then I join in with Nick, getting a bit of gong action myself.


Interstellar Overdrive/A Saucerful Of Secrets

Guy: Interstellar… was the first thing we ever played, what a riff. We’re supposed to have the free-form bit in the middle but we inevitably lock into a bit of a routine. However, we have a bit of a plan for that…

Lee: When I first heard this, on Relics, the atonal stuff in the middle scared me. I rate Syd’s guitar playing, he’s so experimental. It’s just a shame there aren’t more versions of Interstellar…  to listen to, to work out the Binson Echorec delay. I asked Nick, “Did Syd spend a lot of time tinkering with this while recording?” and he said absolutely not. Time is money and [producer] Norman Smith would have stopped anything like that so they could get on with it. So what’s incredible is what you hear is just him, in the moment. 

When it came to us performing this, we can’t recreate a jam, so if you listen out you’ll hear me using parts from other Floyd songs that we’re not playing, such as Embryo or Matilda Mother. With Saucerful… there’s the mad Rats In The Piano part – Dom prepared the piano with nails and other objects, then sampled each note – and then you have those beautiful chords at the end.  


Fearless 

Guy: This is such a beloved song, and the Hillsborough association is so moving, the flag that was made [by justice campaigners] that said ‘We climbed the hill in our own way’. It’s a big Pink Floyd classic that they never played live, but we needed to.

Lee: When we do it, I quite enjoy doing these sort of guitar swells I do with an echo pedal. I can't work out David’s doing on the record so I do my own version. We also play it in a different tuning, in an open G, a bit like the Stones, so it gives me a licence to do some Keith Richards things now and then.


Childhood’s End 

Guy: This again goes back to nights spent in hotel rooms with David Gilmour on my first Floyd tour. I said to him, “Is that song inspired by the Arthur C Clarke book?” and he said yes, and that was, like, [adopts hysterical voice] “it’s the greatest revelation ever, oh my god, I completely get David!” It goes with Nile Song, a rock sound that you can build a whole other band from.

Lee: I found a bootleg of this sent it to Dom, and he sampled the bootleg and plays it at the start of the track, you can hear there's someone in the crowd going, “wow, wow, wow!” It’s another rocky one and we play it a little faster than the original. 


Lucifer Sam

Guy: That is another of the greatest riffs. Heavy. Motörhead could have done this riff. I like it because it’s the proto-rock groove with the Syd super-whimsy, witty lyrics, ‘Be a hip cat, be a ship’s cat’.

Lee: I really like to play this, and it’s another that we make a bit Rolling Stones-y. When Gary started in the band we said we’d become the Keith and Ronnie of Pink Floyd. However, when I get to the solo, I do it like Syd’s but more surf guitar-style, like Dick Dale, all on one string. Syd might have been listening to that at the time.


Echoes 

Guy: It was a big deal playing Echoes. I resisted it for all sorts of reasons, and said I was never going to play it again after Rick died. Part of that was because David had said he was never going to play it again, so I was like, “Well, who the hell am I going to play it with?” I never saw this band coming, did I? Ultimately, this is honouring Rick and it’s a rose to sing, and I love singing this with Gary. Dom deserves a shout-out here, he’s put a sound effect in, a thunder clap, that you think, “Why wasn’t that there before?”

Lee: Echoes is a really good addition, and once it was in the set we just couldn’t take it out. On the record, it points to the future of Floyd, you can hear where David’s going. I do the seagull sound, which some people think is a whale. It’s done by plugging a wah-wah pedal in the wrong way round and using the tone control. I then realised that people thought we might be using a pre-recorded tape, so I’ve started holding the guitar up to show people “it’s me! I’m doing it!” We have quite a balance of instrumental songs to ones with lyrics. Echoes probably has about two minutes of singing in a 20-minute track. It’s mesmeric. We don’t play Echoes, Echoes plays us. 


One Of These Days 

Lee: I try and play One Of These Days very similarly to how David plays it now. I used to play it like the Meddle version, simply because I hadn’t played lap steel or slide before. Now I’ve put my own parts in, and this track is great for Guy.

Guy: For me, to play One Of These Days, there’s so much bang for your buck because what I’m doing is ludicrously simple but it sounds amazing. It’s just a delay, but so long as you’re locked onto it gives so much. I’ve done it with Floyd a million times, with David a million times, it’s been a staple of the last 38 years for me.


Bike 

Lee: This was a really weird song for us when we started to learn it, it’s all over the place with time. I then realised that you play to the vocal and you can’t go wrong. 

Guy: This is definitive Syd and one of those things where Nick being Nick is so important. If you try and figure this out, properly, accurately, you’d drive yourself mad. It's incredibly odd numbered bars and strange time signatures. And Nick just blasts through it while Gary and I alternate signing, at our campest and most music hall.  

Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets Set The Controls tour starts June 11 at the Victoria Hall in Stoke-On-Trent. See thesaucerfulofsecrets.com for dates and tickets.

Jo Kendall

Jo is a journalist, podcaster, event host and music industry lecturer with 23 years in music magazines since joining Kerrang! as office manager in 1999. But before that Jo had 10 years as a London-based gig promoter and DJ, also working in various vintage record shops and for the UK arm of the Sub Pop label as a warehouse and press assistant. Jo's had tea with Robert Fripp, touched Ian Anderson's favourite flute (!), asked Suzi Quatro what one wears under a leather catsuit, and invented several ridiculous editorial ideas such as the regular celebrity cooking column for Prog, Supper's Ready. After being Deputy Editor for Prog for five years and Managing Editor of Classic Rock for three, Jo is now Associate Editor of Prog, where she's been since its inception in 2009, and a regular contributor to Classic Rock. She continues to spread the experimental and psychedelic music-based word amid unsuspecting students at BIMM Institute London, hoping to inspire the next gen of rock, metal, prog and indie creators and appreciators.